29 November 2008

Daring Bakers: Shuna Fish Lydon's Caramel Cake

• Recipe's origins: Bay Area Bites: Caramel Cake, The Recipe
• Recipe's orginator: Shuna Fish Lydon
• Our hostess:
Dolores of Culinary Curiosity

• Our co-hostess: Alex of Brownie and Blondie and Jenny of Foray into Food

When I heard that this month's DB challenge was one of Shuna's recipes, I was positively overjoyed. Not only is she the wonderful authoress of the equally wonderful Eggbeater, but I had the distinct pleasure of being on the BlogHer '07 foodblogging panel with her. I can tell you all that she's an absolutely warm and lovely person and I am so happy to have had the opportunity to have met her.

I read though the recipe and I knew exactly when it would be served. You see, this month marked My Most Marvellous Manager's 10th anniversary at the company. He's a truly great person and I am so lucky to have worked with him for the past seven and a half years--quite knowledgeable, a great mentor and quite patient (well, you have to be to work with me). I'm pretty sure he didn't suspect I'd bring in some treats to mark the milestone..

I'm not much of a caramel maker. I've only made it successfully once before. Normally I get a crystaline formation that could resemble an outcropping on a planet seen on Doctor Who. Previous attempts left me so frustrated that I simply gave up, or if I was cooking with my Dear Little Cardamummy, I'd just get her to make it. Well, I seem to have regained my caramel making touch as it turned out perfectly, with little wisps of smoke rising as the Napalm-.like liquid turned a deep amber.

The batter came together wonderfully. Can't say much better than that.

Now, when it came to determining how best to take it in, I decided to go with cupcakes. I have learned that I have some...enthusastic eaters...around me, and sometimes it's best that treats be pre-portioned...mind you, it also means there's less clean up in the end, so it's not totally an altruistic decision.

Cuppycakes they were. the recipe turned out about 18 slightly mounded slight cakes. My guess is Beelzebub was done with them in about 20 minutes.Truth be told, 12 of them made it to the office...the other six were mysteriously left in my kitchen. Funny how this happens from time to time.

I think the next time I make this cake, I'll halve the icing recipe. It's quite delicious, but there's a lot of it. I'd prefer a thinnish icing layer bonneting the cakes, than entombing the delicate and soft crumb in all that icing.

Everyone loved the cupcakes -- including MMMM.

To see what the other Daring Bakers did, please visit our blogroll.


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23 November 2008

Cranapple Muffins

One of the many things I've been accused of is never leaving well enough alone. I analyse, overanalyse and poke holes in things and ideas until the point of my own often-fleeting satisfaction.

It annoys some people.

In certain instances it's to make sure I've made the right decision. I read prospectuses, I look at the alternatives, I weigh pros and cons. I like to think I rarely take recommendations blindly from sales people: I've found their advice is very rarely given with an altruistic bent, and more often planted by sales quotas. Admittedly, there's a little rush I get when I put on the doe-eyed "I don't quite understand this" bunny voice and innocently ask the question they don't want to answer...

In other instances I want to see how I can do the same thing but easier, faster, cheaper or (when it comes to food) tastier. Nothing wrong with that. At least not to me.

When it comes to cooking and baking I like to play....which results in NTSM (never twice (the) same meal). When I sort out a base recipe I take off from there. Sometimes I change one ingredient, sometimes I change a whole bunch. Gosh, it frustrated The Fussy Eater.

"Why can't you just make a normal (insert whatever dish I happened to serve). I liked it the last time. Why do you always have to change things?"

Of course, what he never realised was "the last time" wasn't the straight recipe. My response was usually "What, don't you like it?"

He usually grudgingly admitted that he did.

Case closed.

Mind you, there are recipes that just beg to be played with, if only for the number of times it's prepared. Muffins are a prime example. I make a dozen every couple of weeks and sometimes I revert to the original flavours, I often change things to what's on hand, what's in season or to satisfy a craving.

Now that we're in that post-Thanksgiving-pre-Christmas period, right now I'm craving cranberries and tart apples...hence cranapple muffins. These quick breads aren't like the cake-like offerings found in coffee shops and mass-market cafeterias--the crumb, while not exactly tender, has enough body to make them perfect for breakfast or late-aftenoon pick me up. I prefer to soak the cranberries for a little while before adding them to the batter--not only do the plump nicely, but it also rids them of their imposed, insipid sweetness.

Cranapple Muffins

Makes 12 "normal sized" muffins

60g butter, melted
200g ap flour
1 dspn baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
120g sugar
a good pinch of salt
200ml plain or vanilla yoghurt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
75g dried cranberries, rehydrated in boiling water for about 10 or 15 minutes
1 tart apple, peeled and chopped (Granny Smith, Greening or any other varietal you happen to have on hand).

Line a 12-bun muffin tray with papers and preheat the oven to 190C/375F.

Seive together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, sugar and salt.

Mix together the yoghurt, butter, egg and vanilla. Pour into the dry ingredients. Quickly bring together the mixture--this will only take a few stirs with a spoon: lumps are okay as you aren't looking for cake batter. Fold in the apples and cranberries. Divide between the muffin bowls and bake until an inserted cake tester comes out cleanly...about 25 minutes, depending upon your oven's temperment.


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20 November 2008

Brussel sprouts with sausage and potatoes

Ah, poor Brussel sprout...why do so many people dislike you?

I mention a craving and some gaze upon me with a horrified look that could only mean that I've converted to the cult of big box freezer meats and other processed dinners stores...or worse yet, have become a gym bunny.

Really, these cute little leafy, Smurf-sized cabbages can't be all bad can they? Well, I suppose with initials like BS, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that people don't necessarily trust them when presented.

Even a supper party teaming with good-eating (as in adventurous) foodish friends elicits dubious looks at a pot loaded with brussel sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts (from Nigella's Feast). I proudly announce that their scant and polite first portions were not only hoovered, but followed by proper sized second (in some cases a third) helpings, and in the process, I'd won converts to my altar of Brussel sprouty adoration.

The problem, it seems, is a prediliction for boiling the happiness out of these little spheroids until they are greyed, almost mushy and devoid of...sparkle. Why would anyone do that to a lovely little cluster of leaves? Really.

For me, there is no such thing as a lowly Brussel sprout, to be treated with anything that hints at derision. Really, all they need is a bit of a steaming--just enough to take away the squeak add a bit of vibrancy to their colour...a bit of salt, pepper and butter (everything is better with butter). My Dear Little Cardamummy curries them. I've been known to add them to a veggie pasta as well as pizza. But, truth be told, I normally take a page from La Lawson and other recipe writers who pair them with bacon. Really...like butter, everything is better with bacon.

So the other week, when a local grocer had my adored little cabbages on special offer, I was in a mini-bliss...and treated them as a hash-like main course. Not only does it use left over boiled potatoes, it's very easy and quite satsifying. The quantities are specific, but not--if you want more meat, add more meat. If you want fewer potatoes, don't add as many. Change it up as you wish--a favourite variant uses sweet potatoes and thick bacon cubes.

Brussel sprouts with sausage and potatoes
2 Italian sausages, freed from their casings
Olive oil
Half a medium globe onion, sliced in lunettes
2 garlic cloves, minced
A pinch or more of chilli flakes
350g leftover boiled potatoes, cubed (or you can parboil them)
350g Brussel sprouts, cleaned and quartered
60 ml water
A few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce

Brown the sausage; remove the meat leaving the fat in the pan. Soften the onions in the pan, adding oil as needed. Add the minced garlic and chilli flakes, salt and pepper. Tip in the potatoes and brown, stirring occasionally. Remove the potatoes and add the brussel sprouts with the water; lid the pan and let the veg steam for a few minutes until vibrant. Strain out any remaining water and reintroduce the potatoes and the sausage and Worcestershire. Mix well and adjust seasoning to taste.


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17 November 2008

Milk Calendar Mondays: Vibrant broccoli soup

Sometimes I wonder where bland diets come from....not medically-necessitated bland diets, but diets that lack interesting flavours and textures.

And yes, I'm fully aware that "interesting" is a highly subjective term...I find the works by English Renaissance dramatists interesting, am fairly sure not everyone shares my literary diversions.

I suppose those who prefer foods deficient in...sparkle...may not have been exposed to said sparkle. Maybe they think sparkle is frightening in the same way people are afraid of roller coasters or bungee jumping: that's nice for some, but not for me, thank you very much.

I don't think there's a problem with the occasional settling for something a little less than wow. At the very least, you appreciate the wow even more when you (deservedly return to it). Unfortunately, there are some who decrease their culinary sparkle so subtly they don't realise they've lost their sparkle. They stop cooking for themselves and become increasingly reliant on lowest common denominator prefab foods (cafeteria offerings, the frozen foods aisle), a mood strikes and doesn't let go, they get lazy and find the walk to the spice cupboard just too far...

So, when I spied this month's dairy calendar recipe (Vibrant broccoli soup) I wondered how...sparkly...it would be. The ingredient list didn't put it into the "Oh my dear word, what on Earth were they thinking" category...but it didn't fall into the "Oh my dear word, this looks as if it has real potential" category either. It did fall into the "Oh my dear word, they think a bit of garlic and chilli flake is daring...no, wait, they think Swiss Chard and Cheddar are daring...so sans bitter greens and pretty much universally accepted cheese this is...um...lowest common denominator."

I will say this. It is a good recipe for a basic thick veggie soup. You can sub a number of veggies for the broccoli (I immediately thought of cauliflower and carrot, but you can probably do a whole host of other flavours and colours) and play with the spicing. It was quick and very easy. It was also reminiscent of institutional food...like what you get in hospital or on certain airlines: inoffensive and lacked sparkle.

Oh well...


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14 November 2008

On my rickety shelves: The Food You Crave

Thanks to the lovely people at Random House Canada, a copy of this month's cookbook selection was delivered to my kitchen.

The Food You Crave: Luscious recipes for a healthy life
By Ellie Krieger
Taunton Press/Random House Canada
320 pages; $33

Admittedly, whenever I hear any combination or derivation of the terms detox, recipe low-fat, low-salt, low-cholesterol or healthy I cringe. Years of reading about this diet and that lifestyle, vilified foods, praised foods, not to mention the eventually contradictory nutritionism conditioned me to block out most of the good-for-you, you-should-eat-this-way noise that bombards us daily. My personal eating mantra is pretty simple…and very reminiscent of Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” along with avoiding packaging that tries to convince you of the contents’ edibility.

Granted, it can be difficult finding food (and yes, it depends upon what you declare “food”—My Dear Little Cardamummy is convinced lobster isn’t food). Finding food-like things is easy. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for food-like things—I fervently believe a healthy diet does include the occasional Swedish berry—but too many food-like things can be an issue: hence the proliferation of the above, cringe-worthy-to-me terms.

The thing is, food (by my definition food is healthy) should taste good. Unfortunately, it seems as if many of the healthy-monikered foodstuffs I’ve eaten don’t taste good—they are bland, soggy, mealy...boring.

I’ve never understood it.

Shouldn’t one reward good behaviour? As in: if you avoid overreliance on polyhydrogenatedsalisucraloseinatified foods by eating (umm…) real ingredients, the food should not only taste good, but also make you feel good and hopefully happy.

Take the vast majority of the Milk Calendar recipes I’ve been cooking through this year: they were developed to use dairy and have some sort of nutritional balance. Well…some weren’t bad, but others tasted so horrid, I wonder what on earth happened to the recipe developers’ and taste testers’ mouths (and brains) to ever declare those recipes…tasty.

So when I flipped through this month’s cookery book selection, I was a little nervous. Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave: luscious recipes for a healthy life had the warning signs of a book that “meant well”—earnestly written with an eye towards nudging readers towards the healthy lifestyle du jour. She is a registered dietician and hosts Healthy Appetite, on the US’s Food Network.

Her expository was heartening to me…in fact, Krieger won me over in the introductory paragraph to her food philosophy:

“In my food world, there is no fear or guilt, only joy and balance. So no ingredient is ever off-limits. Rather, all of the recipes here follow my Usually-Sometimes-Rarely philosophy. Notice there is no Never.”

Here’s a compliment: Quite honestly, if it weren’t for her tips on things like building a better muffin and Mediterranean-inspired eating and boxes of nutrient numbers that accompany each recipe, I’d not think of this as a healthy eating book. I’d think it was a “normal” general-purpose cookbook. Really. The unappetising nature of many “healthy” or “diet” recipes is pretty much absent in her suite of recipes. Breakfast can include Poached egg with herb-roasted turkey breast and sweet potato hash, dinner can be Spinach with warm bacon dressing, and supper can be Tuscan roasted chicken and vegetables. And dessert? Banana Cream Pie. Need I say more?

The book itself is fresh and light. Well-written and easy to follow recipes punctuated with the occasional (lovely) photograph. The entire book itself is simply designed and, well, inviting.

Every recipe I tried worked really well produced delicious food that made me feel…good. What more can I ask for?

Curried Butternut Squash Soup (p 78)
Incredibly easy and very tasty, and (like many good soups) was incredible the next day. I used a the hot curry powder I have in my pantry…probably should have reduced the quantity a bit.

Sage-rubbed pork chops with Warm Apple Slaw (p 195)
The chops were so intuitive, I wouldn’t call it a recipe…but it was a good reminder of how tasty simply prepared food can be. Apart from the unending chopping, the slaw was easy to pull together. I think it could have used a little sugar or honey, but otherwise was very tasty.

Mocha cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting (p 282)
This was a very good and moist cake. As I’m of the school that believes cake should have a tender crumb, so the whole wheat nubblies in the crumb turned me off. I’m not a fan of dolloped frosting, so the relatively thin layer was just perfect for me.

The Food You Crave is exactly that. The food you crave.

So how does it rate?
Overall: 4/5
The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Yum factor: 4/5
Table-top test: Lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Novice
Pro: Easy and delicious healthy foods
Con: Can’t think of any.


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10 November 2008

Hagia is veddy veddy angry with me...


Anyone out there? Sigh...

Apologies for the week's silence. Wasn't planned. You see, I'd planned to upload the latest cookbook review last week, but the universe conspired against me.

Okay, not me personally, but said universe decided to play games with the weather in my part of the world. If you're here, you know that we had a very odd warm spell last week. Sure, it was nice, but when the elements change so drastically, it plays a number with my head. Three days of protomigraines. Glah.

For the lucky ones who tried to engage me in coversation, you know how loop(ed) I was on pain pills (my skin started tingling on Friday). Glah. Feeling a bit better now, but am tonnes behind in everything else I was supposed to do...work, housework, sorting through detritus...

No cooking or baking got done, lived on frozen leftovers, meals from my parents and things declared edible from the fastfoodrama mall.

And this is why my cat is veddy veddy angry with me.

I'd always known that we shared certain culinary preferences: Equal amounts of pleasure can be derrived from eating crunchy things as batting them around. Olives are divine. Beef in a can really isn't food. Ice cream is heaven. Sometimes only lemongrass will do.

Well...she's developed other tastes...for baked goods. Okay. I know of other cats who like breads ... and that's okay (I think)...but she never wanted anything to do with cookies or cakes or pie crust. She's developed a particular prediliction for raw flour. I've caught her licking speckles off the phone and the floor and my hands.

So when I brought home a container of Timbits (doughnut holes to non-Canadians), she tried every trick in the book to get one. She sat by my feet and gazed up at me. She pawed at me. she even hopped onto the couch and snuggled up next to me. When her kittenly wiles proved useless, she basically stuck her head on my saucer and tried to liberate a baked ball of doughnutty goodness.


Then she heard the words she rarely hears from me: "Naughty girl! Down NOW."

She knows what those words mean...she's been caught doing something she's not supposed to do...but instead of running away and hiding behind the couch, she stood at the far end of the room and just glared at me.

You know the look...I'm sure those of you with petulant children have received it: the you are being so unfair to me. I'm a good little one and I deserve a... look.

I got that look ALL EVENING.

Truth be told, I don't know what baked goods will do to cats...but I don't want her begging for food, nor do I want her to further develop her taste for people food. Given she's not a begging cat, I don't know what's gotten into her.

Maybe she's just peeved at me that I've been so busy...or hiding in dark rooms with a glass of water and a few pills. Maybe this was how I was supposed to make up with her: by giving her Timbits...preferably my favourite cherry ones...

Well...she's not going to be happy with me over the next few days as I try and get caught up with things...and formulate that next post. Oh well...'tis the life of a cat.


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02 November 2008

Pumpkin cupcakes

'Tis the season to be pumpkinny.

I suppose this could be a Savour the Season post...and if I'd given more thought to it, I'd probably have trekked out to the pumpkin patch, snapped some photos and done up a proper StS badge...but alas, I did not.

The fact is, I was stuck for Hallowe'eny treats. Last year I didn't do anything for this spooky day--didn't dress up, didn't do the treats. I wanted to rectify the situation.

This year, I wanted to be a bumble bee. We have a great theatrical costumer in town and I recall seeing the striped top, wings and other bee-like acutriments a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I was in an all-morning meeting and couldn't buzz around like I wanted...well, I could have, but it wouldn't have been advisable. Sigh...the problems of being a somewhat responsible grown up...

So I recycled a previous "costume" --dressed normally and wore my tiara (yes, I do own one)...whenever people commented on the headpiece I'd just say in my breathy bunny voice, "What tiara? I don't know what you're talking about," or "Princess? Why do you think that I'm only a princess one day a year?"

The treats weren't as easy to sort out. A few years ago I came up with ghoulish witch fingers...people are still talking about them. I'd seen some other seasonal goodies and thought about doing something really gross, but I've been run off my size sixes.

The fallback plan is always cupcakes. After some pondering, I decided on pumpkin cupcakes with orangy cream cheese frosting.

The frosting was thrown together without measuring...roughly 125g cream cheese (half a packet) a big knob of butter, a couple or four spoons of icing sugar, a dribble of orange essence and a teaspoon or two of orange juice.

The cupcakes are great--moist, spiced like a Thanksgiving pie but with a fluffy crumb...and very, very easy.

I'd thought I'd only bake a couple dozen...and I was well on my way to do that...but accidentally added the entire 796ml tin of pumpkin into the bowl, instead of half. OOPS. Well...I quickly doubled the rest of the ingredients and was soon up to my ears in pumpkin cupcakes. Oh well...there are worse fates...like not having any pumpkin cupcakes.

Pumpkin Cupcakes
yields four dozen cupcakes (depending upon size of bowls and how much you fill them).

500g cake flour
2 dspns baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
seeds from one cardamom pod, ground
1 tsp salt
225g butter
250g brown sugar
250g sugar
4 eggs
1/2 c whipping cream mixed with 1/2c water
1 796ml tin pumpkin

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and paper the bowls of your cupcake tin(s).

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, spices and salt; set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in sugars. Beat in eggs, two at a time. Add flour mixture alternately with milk (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour)--scrape down the sides of the bowl after each flour addition. Fold in the pumpkin.

Dollop into muffin tray bowls and bake for 25ish minutes or until an inserted tester comes out cleanly. Let cool completely before icing (optional).


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